June 30, 2013
Less than a year ago, refrigerated rooms that once stored meat for distributors and pork traders in the brick warehouse at 1000 W. Fulton Market were overgrown with stalactites and stalagmites of ice.
This year, the 10-story Fulton Market Cold Storage building, the tallest in the West Town neighborhood, has been defrosted, skinned and stripped to its concrete bones.
By early 2016, Google plans to move its 500-person Chicago office there from River North, accelerating the neighborhood's transformation from a place where food is processed and shipped to a place where it's consumed — at chic, candlelit tables made of reclaimed wood, no less.
The developer of the cold-storage building is capitalizing on the neighborhood's hip image, marketing the project as "1K Fulton: Work. Eat. Chill."
"It's huge. Huge," Martha Goldstein, executive director of the West Loop Community Organization, said of Google's move. "It puts us on the map more than we're already there. ... The neighborhood is still in need of retail. It's the one thing we're lacking and, as a result of Google coming, retail will follow."
Jim Lecinski, head of Google's Chicago office, said two neighborhood amenities attracted the company: A new "L" stop at Morgan Street on the Green and Pink lines and nearby restaurants. The building's developer, Chicago-based Sterling Bay Cos., agreed to let Google employees bring their dogs to work and will supply indoor bike storage. "And, for me, as a Hawks fan, it's close to the United Center," Lecinski said.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood's long-standing food wholesalers and meatpackers must work around the increased foot and car traffic, which complicates truck loading and unloading. Tensions have risen as the neighborhood evolves.
"A lot of people moved into the neighborhood to be by trucks and carcasses," said Amit Hasak, former president and part-owner of Fulton Market Cold Storage Co., which sold the building last year to Sterling Bay for $12 million.
"On the other hand, once they got here, our neighbors started complaining about the trucks and carcasses" said Hasak, who said the 1923 building had become obsolete for his needs. Hasak moved the business to a rented facility in Lyons and renamed it Hasak Cold Storage.
The Randolph-Fulton Market Association, which represents many businesses and food companies, opposed Sterling Bay's plans to create a 20,000-square-foot retail space on the ground floor of the cold-storage building.
"We didn't want big-box retail," said Roger Romanelli, the association's executive director. "Google is highly welcomed by the community because office uses mesh well with light industrial, and office users are not bringing their kids to work every day. … The street grid just isn't wide enough to accommodate the volume a destination retailer would bring."
Artists often lead the first wave of gentrification. But in the West Loop's case, it has been condo dwellers and small businesses, especially restaurants.
Award-winning chefs and restaurateurs — Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (Next and The Aviary); Stephanie Izard and Boka Restaurant Group (Girl & the Goat); and Paul Kahan and One Off Hospitality Group (Blackbird, avec and The Publican) — have brought international attention to the neighborhood. And tech companies smaller than Google, such as Sandbox Industries, Braintree and Threadless, have planted headquarters there as well.
"Restaurants have always seemed to give the neighborhood its initial lifeblood," said Scott Maesel, executive managing director of commercial real estate brokerage Sperry Van Ness, who lives in the neighborhood and owns real estate there. "Jerry Kleiner's restaurants, Vivo and Marche, put the West Loop — and I'm talking West of Halsted — on the map."
Restaurateurs are attracted by more affordable ground-floor rents, compared with those in Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast, and the warehouse aesthetic — large, open floor plans, muscular columns and brick walls.
"The neighborhood is full of buildings with unique character," said Jeffrey Shapack, who is co-developing a private club and hotel, Soho House Chicago, on Green Street with Chicago-based AJ Capital Partners. "Shapack Development owns other buildings in the neighborhood which we plan to rehab with new interiors juxtaposed against incredibly ornate, old 1900s facades."
Many factories and distributors are protected by a city-created planned manufacturing district and a larger industrial corridor that stretches from Kedzie Avenue to Halsted Street and from Grand Avenue to Randolph Street. These zoning restrictions may slow — but are unlikely to reverse — the deindustrialization of Chicago's core.
Shapack said much of the neighborhood's zoning "is not great" for developers. "However, it fosters creativity with how you reuse buildings," he said.
Andy Gloor, managing principal of Sterling Bay, said companies are "looking for creative office space," and their executives "want to work in a neighborhood they like to hang out in too." The storage building also has "stunning" city views, he added.
Lecinski said Google didn't ask "for any special treatment whatsoever" from the city in making the move.
Still, taxpayers have contributed to the neighborhood's growing popularity with a $38 million "L" station at Lake and Morgan streets, the first new CTA station to open in the city in 15 years. The previous Morgan Street station was demolished in the late 1940s. The CTA closed the station at Halsted and Lake streets in the mid-1990s.
On a recent 9 a.m. visit to Google's current office in River North, there was a line to get into the elevator. Inside, the walls are awash in Google's primary colors — blue, red, yellow, green. Rooms have Chicago themes and a college-campus vibe. Employees work in pods. The cafeteria serves free lunch and breakfast Monday through Friday and offers six types of vinegar at the salad bar.
"We try to balance two things: one is a sense of Google-y-ness," Lecinski said. "That no matter if you're in our Singapore office, or our Berlin office, or Chicago, it feels like the Google brand, but yet it feels like an expression of the Google brand in that locale. We have rooms here called speak-easy and Ferris Bueller and 312 cafe. We will want to try and capture not only Chicago, but that Chicago neighborhood essence, combined with the essence of Google in the new space."
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